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From Breakup to Breakthrough: Healing Heartbreak on the Mat

Writer Crystal Fenton shares her story of using patience and practice to turn the end of a relationship into an opportunity to evolve.

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Writer Crystal Fenton shares her story of using patience and practice to turn the end of a relationship into an opportunity to evolve.

I felt as if my heart had been ripped out of my body. I loved him that deeply. I had thought we were on the marriage track; we’d discussed engagement, lived together in three cities, and rescued two dogs. I was blindsided when he unexpectedly ended things and left me, for the first time as an adult, alone. Yogis should be well-versed in detachment, yet I had no idea how to leave our shared life behind.

Surprisingly (to me), my yoga mat became my post-relationship refuge. A casual practitioner since high school, when I worked at a studio in my suburban hometown, yoga had dropped in priority during college and early adulthood, replaced by happy hours with my boyfriend and wine-fueled watch parties of The Bachelor with friends. With no boyfriend or warm dogs (he got custody) to cuddle in the morning post-breakup, it was amazing how much easier it was to leave the bed in the early AM and make a class or sneak in a practice. And since I no longer had to rush home to walk four-legged family members, I had freedom after work too.

Although it took time to reacquaint myself with the practice, it eventually became an absolute necessity in my new daily routine. My yoga mat became the only place I felt I could focus and actually be present in the now. Everywhere else in the city, I was reminded of my ex. On the mat, there were no shared experiences, no history, nothing to bring him to mind.
With each practice, I felt lighter and better, and so I continued.

Mirroring the unraveling of my life, my well-loved Jade Yoga mat slowly grew large, gaping holes in the spots my hands and feet were typically positioned. I treated my mat as a sacred space, one which absorbed everything I was releasing, be it sweat, tears or a combination of both.

See alsoGuided Meditation for Heartbreak, Pain, and Grief

“It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of a new chapter.” That saying played out in my life when the Buddhist-based studio, where I practiced closed. Little did I know when I purchased Groupons to a couple new studios that my yoga practice was in for a complete transformation. Three years later, these new-to-me teachers, Marco Rojas and Gwen Lawrence, became my mentors when I earned my teaching certification.

In the meantime, under their guidance, I discovered that I was physically storing emotions within my hips and heart. By nature, I was blessed with open hips and a love for backbends, yet each time I deepened into an intense lunge or forward fold, I experienced sensations that proved suffering was indeed held within my hip flexors. Simultaneously, I was protecting my heart, rather than keeping it open, specifically in the transition from Chaturanga to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana.

My practice evolved to include awakening asanas to open and release these areas. Even at home, each time I rolled forward, down, and arced into Upward-Facing Dog, I could hear Marco’s voice in my head, reminding me to “keep the heart open” or “open the heart, no one is going to break it.” Gwen Lawrence taught me that a long, passive hold can allow the hip flexors, often overworked, to release and let go, while gravity does the work. In my practice, I began sliding a block under my lower back to support the pelvis, extending one leg, and drawing the other into my chest. I’d stay here for 3–5 minutes letting the hips, heart, and mind unwind.

See also3 Steps to Find Refuge from Stress

Each inhalation brought new space and strength into my body, while each exhalation allowed me to let go. Every posture, constantly changing, mirrored how my life was evolving. Observing the physical sensations without judging them taught me to reflect, rather than react. In response to another Marco-ism, “you can make it better or worse,” I continually worked to refine each asana with an adjustment or alignment fix that would create ease and balance. And even off the mat, while walking or waiting for the subway, I would roll the shoulder blades back and down, broaden the collarbone, keeping the chest—and heart—open, expansive, and receptive to the universe.

When things felt difficult, in yoga or in life, I reminded myself of Jois’ famous quote: “Practice and all is coming.” Rather than retreat, bemoaning the past, I took action, controlling what I could physically, and even emotionally, through the practice. I began to feel more like myself and less like the victim of a broken heart. Yoga brought relief, strength, and mental clarity; it allowed me to shed the toxicity, negativity, and suffering that had been buried in my body. This journey deepened my practice and more importantly shifted my consciousness, allowing me to become more compassionate, open, receptive, and calm. Today, I practice and teach yoga with tremendous gratitude for the healing, opportunities, and freedom it’s given me.

See alsoHealing Heartbreak: A Yoga Practice to Get Through Grief

Crystal Fenton is a NYC-based writer and yoga instructor. Yoga has helped Crystal learn to live mindfully, both on and off the mat. She is passionate about sharing the practice and her love for it with others. 

Photo location: Aruba Marriott/Island SUP

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